Archive for Monday, February 22, 1999

DEPUTIES ADD SECURITY TO COURTROOMS

February 22, 1999

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The Douglas County Sheriff's Department deputies who provide security for the district court say the job is interesting because they see something new nearly every day.

One of the perks Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Fangohr has enjoyed while providing security for the district court has been a crash course in the law.

He launched his career in law enforcement as a corrections officer at a maximum-security prison, where he saw the end-result of the judicial system. In his current job, he gets a glimpse into its beginnings.

"I find it's very interesting," Fangohr said Friday during a break between hearings. "I've learned a lot."

He and the other Douglas County Sheriff's Department deputies assigned to the courts offer security during first appearances, preliminary hearings, trials, sentencings and other court activities. The senior deputy who works in all five divisions of the district court, Fangohr said the job is intriguing because he learns something new nearly every day.

But that doesn't mean it's always easy.

Fangohr gets a firsthand glimpse of the pain families affected by crime experience.

"When you work eight hours a day and go to five divisions, you're always going to hear stuff that bothers you," the 42-year-old father said. "But there are also happy occasions. People get married here, and we have adoptions here. So it all evens out."

A security program is born

The sheriff's department and district court implemented the security program in 1994 after an April 1993 incident in which a defendant smuggled a .22-caliber pistol into a courtroom. No one was injured, but the incident startled attorneys and employees at the judicial center. As a result, Administrative Judge Michael Malone, Sheriff Loren Anderson and county commissioners worked together to devise a security program.

Authorities declined Friday to specify how many deputies the department dedicates to the courts because of security concerns.

The deputies are armed, but Fangohr couldn't remember a time during his nearly two years that anyone has had to draw a deadly weapon. Deputies once had to use Mace, however, to calm an erratic defendant, he said.

And there have been times when defendants who didn't think they should be in court in the first place or weren't pleased with the outcomes of their cases have become unruly.

In the third division courtroom, for example, Fangohr points to a wood partition separating onlookers from the defendant and prosecutor's tables. The mini-wall wobbles from side to side with Fangohr's touch.

"It was damaged by a young man who got upset after court was over," he said. "Fortunately we don't have a lot of major incidences like that. The deputies had to restrain him."

Fangohr says that most of people who come to court are courteous. In addition to ensuring safety in the courtrooms, Fangohr and Deputies Lana VanAnne and Stacy Simmons keep an eye on the behavior of defendants and onlookers and make sure they obey court rules. If people are loud or acting discourteously to the judges or attorneys, the deputies will step in.

If an incident warrants it, the deputies will complete an offense report and forward it to Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich's office.

Most days, things go pretty smoothly, Fangohr said.

Portable walk-through and hand-held metal detectors are available to the deputies if they believe a case demands that added security. The deputies also have access to portable preliminary breath tests to test people who might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Although it's rare, people sometimes do show up to court drunk or under the influence of other drugs, he said.

"We've had occasions where people have been remanded to custody because they were under the influence," Fangohr said.

Deputies hear complaints

A veteran of the sheriff's department for about 17 years, Fangohr schedules the deputies who provide security for the courts and for the courthouse.

VanAnne, who's been with the sheriff's department about nine years, said she likes the assignment -- she and other deputies have rotated in and out of the courts -- because of the change of pace.

She agreed with Fangohr that most people the deputies encounter are easy to deal with, but there have been a few who have felt the system wasn't fair to them. In those cases, the people in uniform usually get the brunt of complaints, she said.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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